Inside the agro-processing plant in Mweiga, some 20 minutes drive from Nyeri Town, machines cling as they fill plastic bottles of various sizes with juice and jam.
Two workers watch keenly as the machines do the work, ensuring everything goes on right.
Dressed in white overcoat, blue jeans and matching T-shirt and white gumboots, Daniel Kiboi, the owner of the agro-processing plant, looks on with satisfaction.
Kiboi adds value to tree tomatoes, making jam and juice that he sells mainly in the town and counties.
His is a story of a farmer betrayed by a harsh market for raw products, but did not give up, choosing to add value to the fruits by setting up the Sh3 million facility that he has named Tamarillo Company.
“I used to grow tree tomatoes some two years ago and would transport the fruits to Marikiti market in Nairobi twice a week where I would sell them. But the prices would be dictated by the brokers, one day I would sell at Sh100 a kilo and the next Sh50 and then payment would come sometimes even after two weeks,” recounts Kiboi.
The experience made him frustrated, says the farmer, who notes that, “If you want to break a farmer, fail to pay them on time.”
Together with his wife, he enrolled at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) where he did a short course in agro-processing.
They later sourced machines from Nairobi’s Industrial Area and set up the company some four months ago.
“We have been in business since then, adding value to tree tomatoes (tamarillo) and so far, so good,” he says, adding that the locally manufactured machines are efficient and durable.
To begin the business, he got licences from the National Construction Authority to enable him construct the building and then submitted an environmental impact assessment report to the National Environment and Management Authority.
He further went for a single business permit from the county government and applied for Kenya Bureau of Standards certification.
Kiboi has contracted 16 farmers in Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Laikipia counties, who supply him with the giant red oratia tree tomato variety that he reckons is sweet and has better yields.
“We pay the farmers Sh80 a kilo and this is constant unlike brokers. The least delivers 200kg,” he says.
Tree tomatoes flower continuously meaning that they are available all-year round. And in case there is a deficit in supply, he sources the fruits from Meru and other areas.
He visits the contracted farmers regularly to ensure they grow the crop right since there are few extension officers who have mastered the art of tree tomato farming.
WIDE RANGE OF HEALTH BENEFITS
“Before buying the fruits, I check the variety and the size. I prefer the red oratia which is best for juices and jam and the bigger the fruit, the better as it gives me more yields,”
Diseases like fungal blight and powdery mildew and pests such as aphids and caterpillars attack the crop.
Once he gets the fruits from his farm and from other farmers, he stores them in a dark room for two weeks to ensure the bitterness in the fruit ‘goes away’.
He, thereafter, cleans the fruit thoroughly and cuts off the stalk that he says stores the bitterness. The fruit is then blanched.
“We then put the fruits in a pulper that removes the skin and seeds which also contain resin contributing to the bitterness of the fruit.”
The pulp formed goes through a pasteurisation process to kill all microbes.
“It is done at 750c and takes 15 minutes. We then add 10 per cent of water to reduce the thickness, sugar and preservatives that help the juices and jam to have a shelf-life of four months,” he says.
Kiboi’s plant produces 300 litres of juice per hour, and as the market picks up, he hopes to process two tonnes of fruits per hour.
“Tree tomato is very rich in pectin which is the jellying agent and before one thinks of value addition, you have to first understand the chemistry of the fruit,” notes Kiboi, a former agronomist, who has employed six graduates of food and testing from the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology and JKUAT.
Tamarillo (tree tomato) does well in tea and coffee growing zones. It does not do well in areas that are prone to flooding and are windy.
The main challenge is that farmers have grown different varieties including yellow, gold and red oratio, all which taste different.
“I prefer the red oratia but usually I blend it with other varieties to have a unique taste.”
Tree tomatoes have a wide range of health benefits and is recommended for people suffering from diabetes, hypertension and serves as an anti-oxidant.
“There is a lot of misrepresentation out there that the fruit is bitter, therefore, has it has a lot of additives but that is not the case,” he says.
He makes one litre juices and 250ml jam that sells at between Sh100 and Sh250. Robert Mwangi, an agricultural specialist in Nyeri, says being the sole processor of the fruit, Kiboi should ensure he has gets fruits all-year round and capitalise on the monopoly.